- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- For all the coming-of-age adulation poured on the Portland Trail Blazers' two-man tandem of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge for their first-round success, the San Antonio Spurs made a pretty simple statement to open up the second round Tuesday: Don't forget for a second we still just might have the best player in the series in Tony Parker.
Parker prodded and probed his way to a game-high 33 points and nine assists, setting the tone for the Spurs' 116-92 conference-semifinals-opening win over the Blazers. He single-handedly tore up the momentum the team from Rip City built up in the first round into itty-bitty pieces.
Parker was nearly as productive in the first quarter (13 points on 5-for-9 shooting) as Lillard was for the entire game (17 points on 6-for-15 shooting), helping the Spurs jump out to a 13-point lead after the first frame and never look back.
"He's been doing that for a lot of years," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Parker's hot start. "It's nothing different. He's the guy that is our attack guy and creates for everybody and starts the offense going. He's also played very good defense this year. Most people don't really see that."
Parker drew the defensive assignment on Lillard, and as Portland's pride and joy struggled, so did the rest of its offense.
The Blazers shot just 37.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep (4-for-16). Only one of the 11 Trail Blazers players to enter the game, Will Barton, made at least half of his shot attempts. And Barton only did that in the fourth quarter when the Spurs' lead never dipped below 20 points.
After Lillard's heroics against the Houston Rockets, the days leading up to the Spurs series made you wonder if we'd be seeing a changing of the guard -- the 31-year-old Parker's spot near the top of the NBA's point guard pyramid in jeopardy with the 23-year-old Lillard charging hard.
While Parker graciously called Lillard a top-five point guard in the league, he wasn't looking to sidetrack the Spurs' title goal with a solo point to prove.
"I just try to be Pop's favorite point guard," Parker said after Game 1 when asked where he would rank himself.
He had a smile on his face but was wearing a button-down shirt embroidered with countless human skulls -- reminding you that many a promising young point guard have faced off against Parker in the playoffs over the years only to see their season laid to rest.
"I don't think he takes the challenge personally or anything," Boris Diaw said of the Parker-Lillard matchup. "Tony's got one thing on his mind, it's winning games."
Portland will make adjustments. Wesley Matthews guarded Parker primarily in the second half when Parker had five of his six turnovers. Nicolas Batum will also surely get a shot to try to stop him. Parker doesn't just expect the Blazers' defense to cross-match with him as the series drags on, he invites it.
"I'm used to that," Parker said. "Every team I played in the playoffs my whole career, they put a bigger guy on me."
After the Dallas Mavericks improbably knotted their first-round series with San Antonio 3-3, bringing the Spurs to the brink of elimination, the Spurs have now won their past two games by a total of 47 points, with Parker scoring 65 points total in that span.
He's played so well these past two games that the scales might have even been tipped more toward apt than obnoxious when the AT&T Center crowd serenaded him with an "M-V-P" chant in the second half, even though Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant was awarded the trophy earlier in the day.
"I think we had a great Game 7 where everybody was really focused, really understood the game plan, our energy was there, and I think that just carried over into this one," said Tim Duncan, who had 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks during an easy 24-minute night. "I hope we can carry it throughout."
Parker, who twisted his left ankle in Game 4 against Dallas and was still receiving treatment on it right up until Game 1 against Portland, seems content on continuing to carry the Spurs.
"I'm fine," Parker said. "I barely played in April. Pop rested me so many games, I was joking with him if I was still with the Spurs.
The Spurs were supposed to be the exhausted team Tuesday, having gone the distance with Dallas and thus getting two fewer days' rest than the Blazers, who scuttled the Rockets in six.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts even joked before tipoff about their experience: "Some people call it experience, some people call it age. Depends on your perspective."
But it played out just the opposite. The Spurs got the 50-50 balls. The Spurs made that extra step on their closeouts.
The Spurs were quicker in putting a body on someone to box out as soon as a shot went up. Twelve of Portland's 20 turnovers came as a result of steals by San Antonio. They just blitzed the Blazers.
"That's as well as I've seen San Antonio play," said Stotts.
"That's a championship team," said Lillard.
"I think they definitely came out and they let us know how it's going to be," said Aldridge.
Meanwhile, it wasn't just Parker on the top of his game for San Antonio. The Spurs' bench outscored the Blazers' reserves 50-18, and that's with Manu Ginobili struggling with only two points on 0-for-6 shooting from the field. Marco Belinelli picked up the slack, scoring 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, something that Parker called the "best news of the night."
Popovich said he hadn't "figured out anything magical" to thwart Portland before the game, but he sure seemed to sprinkle some pixie dust on Aron Baynes when he plucked him from the bench in waning minutes of the first quarter.
Baynes played just six total minutes in the first round -- garbage time in at the end of San Antonio's Game 7 blowout win -- before all of the sudden getting seven minutes in the first half alone in Game 1, putting up eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and five rebounds before halftime en route to 10 and seven for the night.
"Tonight was really like textbook Spurs basketball," said Diaw.
And the first chapter in that textbook was all about Parker.
Damian Lillard reminds Tony Parker of the way he was when he first made a splash on the NBA scene.